New Unionism says: In the UK the issue of the blacklisting of workers with union links, particularly in the construction sector, has been in the news on and off for most of the last twenty years. In 2009, public data protection agency the Information Commissioner’s Office closed down a group called The Consulting Association on the grounds that it was illegally collecting and selling information about construction workers. The Consulting Association was founded and run by a group of major construction companies and it was these companies that were paying for its ‘employee vetting’ services – services which in reality were about ensuring that workers with a history of union involvement or whistleblowing on health and safety breaches were not taken on at any construction site. Although these companies have apologised for their involvement with the Consulting Association, they have not admitted any liability and remain eligible for public contracts. Despite a recent parliamentary report calling for further action to be taken against businesses involved in blacklisting, the government is resisting calls for a public enquiry. Now the Chartered Institue of Personnel and Development, the professional association representing human resource and personnel managers, appears to be attempting to minimise the damage that blacklisting causes, prompting a robust response from the chair of the UK’s respected public industrial arbitration and conciliation service ACAS. Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group reports.
Chair of ACAS, Sir Brendan Barber has publicly clashed with Mike Emmott from the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) over the issue of blacklisting. The very public disagreement was in front of 200 of the UK’s leading industrial relations academics, HR professionals and union officials when both men addressed a conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Manchester Industrial Relations Society.
Emmott, a former senior civil servant and the CIPD ‘employee relations expert’ was a keynote speaker on behalf of the HR body, a central theme of his speech was the need for HR managers to embed a “culture of trust, fairness and respect”.
During the Q&A session he was questioned about trust and fairness by GMB union political officer Neil Smith over the lack of response by the CIPD to blacklisting. In response Emmot first claimed he did not know a great deal about the issue but then went on to describe the blacklisting scandal as a “big fuss about very little” and stated that he found “union moral outrage over blacklisting, rather distasteful”.
There were audible gasps and an immediate rash of tweets from the audience. The conference then loudly applauded follow up questions that identified a number CIPD Fellows personally being involved in blacklisting union members. A flustered Emmott again responded by claiming to not know about the matter, even though the issue has been front page news in the media, including the CIPD’s own journal. He concluded by saying he would be happy to have the CIPD members accused of wrong doing as his neighbours.
ACAS chief, Sir Brendan Barber (former Trades Union Congress General Secretary) followed Emmott and publicly stated that he totally “disagreed” with the CIPD spokesperson stating that “blacklisting is a major injustice that has not been resolved” adding that it “raises huge issues about corporate culture and responsibility”
The comments by Emmott were even more shocking as blacklisted workers and Shrewsbury Pickets were in the audience and Manchester Royal Infirmary was the scene of the two year dispute which finally exposed the Consulting Association blacklisting conspiracy.
Tony Jones, Mancheter electrician & MRI picket, blacklisted for many years after raising concerns about electrical safety commented: “Yes, it is a big fuss about nothing when you cannot feed and clothe your kids and don’t know why. To me that’s a form of child abuse”
Steve Acheson, Blacklist Support Group chair and Manchester electrician added: “BSG has submitted a complaint to the CIPD for breaches of the code of ethical conduct but 2 years later not a single member of the professional body has faced any sanction. Nor has any senior manager involved in blacklisting been disciplined by their employer, most remain in post or have even been promoted to the Board. The firms and CIPD have cried crocodile tears about blacklisting but the mask of hypocrisy worn by the HR profession has finally slipped.”
“Blacklisting breaches our human rights. It is morally wrong. For any individual to face every day of his life, with no prospect of securing a legal right to employment because of a conspiracy is a complete crime.”
Neil Smith, GMB political officer whose question sparked the row, said: “GMB will continue to campaign to name and shame those guilty of blacklisting and will work with other groups to get justice for those that were wronged. CIPD and others involved will be took to task no matter how long it takes.”